How To Shoot Tonight’s Eclipse

My how to shoot the moon article seems to be getting a lot of hits today, probably due to tonight’s lunar eclipse. I guess this would be the time for me to tell you exactly what settings to use to get a perfect photo of the eclipse.

OK, here goes. I don’t know. I do, however, know how to figure it out.

First off, use the longest lens you have. 200mm is probably the bottom of the range. If you have a teleconverter, use it. Using a tripod or other camera support is also a really good idea, and may be absolutely necessary. Don’t get too hung up on it being tripod– a beanbag or something similar is also good. You just need the camera to hold still.

Your camera’s meter probably won’t be able to deal with the situation with any degree of reason, and autofocus can also be very hit-or-miss. Put the camera in manual mode, and manual focus mode. Set your aperture to about f/8 or f/11 and your ISO to 100. Focus.

Try taking a picture at about 1/125 sec and check it on your LCD to see how it looks. Is it too dark? If so, use a slower shutter speed– try 1/60, and if that doesn’t work try 1/30, and keep trying until you find something you like. If it’s too bright, use a faster shutter speed– try 1/250, etc. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know how to do this already.

Now, bracket bracket bracket. Bracketing is the act of taking multiple shots of the same thing, each with slightly different exposure. It’s very common for photographers to do this, because it leaves them room for error in their exposure. If you think 1/125 is the exposure, always take three shots when you shoot– 1/60, 1/125, 1/250. That way, if you’re slightly wrong then one of the other shots should be usable. I’d even recommend bracketing two stops each way– 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, and 1/500. It’s better to take too many shots than not enough. In situations where I honestly didn’t know what exposure to use, and I really wanted to get the shot right, I’ve been known to bracket three or four stops on either side of my exposure best-guess.

As the earth’s shadow covers the moon, the moon will get dimmer. That means you’ll have to check your exposure again if you come back later. You may wind up using multi-second exposures, and you may even need to open your aperture wider. Increase your ISO if you have to. If you have a remote shutter release you’ll want to use it, or you can use your camera’s delay mode to avoid some of the shake associated with pressing the shutter button at longer exposures.

In a nutshell, what I’ve just told you to do is this: guess, then test out your guess and adjust it as necessary. That’s how I learned to take “hard” shots, and it really does work. When you’re shooting digital, test shots are very close to free, and the feedback is instantaneous.

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1 Comment

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One response to “How To Shoot Tonight’s Eclipse

  1. Great information here. Thanks much for the tutorial!

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